Social Media and SMM: Think Like the Agarwalla Brothers – Scrabulous Marketing Lessons From The Ultimate Appsquatters

The plug was finally pulled on the Scrabulous application on Facebook for North America yesterday. The Scrabble look-alike has been under pressure for months from Scrabble copyright holders Hasbro and their tardy Electronic Arts game development partners. The good news for addicts was that the official Scrabble® plug-in was up and…oh nevermind. A hacker disabled the Scrabble set-up on Facebook Tuesday , botching Hasbro’s planned user migration.

The underlying message here is the humbling, leveling power of the Internet that led two young guys from India to kick Electronic Arts in the posterior with a well-designed app the corporate board-game giant should have thought of in the first place. Imagine if those legal fees Hasbro’s lawyers are collecting had gone instead into Scrabulous’ sibling inventors Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla’s pockets. I maintain that had Hasbro come in early enough and co-opted Scrabulous they would have saved a ton of dough and looked like corporate good guys rewarding innovation.

Would it really cost Hasbro more money to buy the “imitation original” than it has to develop and market their own version while getting tangled up in the legal and public relations thickets? The opposing argument is that Clue or Battleship become fair game for another “appsquatter” to come along and “extort” another payment. Frankly if they haven’t already whipped up their own versions (and they haven’t from my search of Facebook apps) they deserve to get hosed.

The lesson here from a social media marketing perspective is to try to think like the brothers Agarwalla. The genius of Scrabulous wasn’t in ripping off Scrabble, it was in matching the platform with the app. The interactive nature of the game and the features that were built in allowed it to take off across the Facebook platform. While the brother’s original website which allowed users to play the game online had around 20,000 registered users the Facebook app had upwards of 500,000 users daily. Now imagine the app being used as an ad platform to link users back to a website. Imagine Hasbro using it to drive people back to stores to buy the original game. Done right, this was golden opportunity — it remains to be seen if the official Scrabble app proves to be so.

Having the right message and the right application for a given social media platform are analogous. As Reprise Media’s Managing Partner Peter Hershberg has pointed out, marketers need to take the time to understand each different social media platform before they actually engage. If you do you could be as succesful as two young dudes from India were – and hopefully with a property you own all the rights to ahead of time. As the Scrabulous mess shows though, don’t take too much time, because someone else could be squatting on your killer app.

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